Thanksgiving has historically been my favorite holiday. For years, I loved it because it meant going to my Granny’s house, hanging around my mostly fun extended family, seeing the mountains of Virginia, and eating good food. Then afterwards, we’d have a party. There are a lot of musicians in my family, so on Friday after Thanksgiving, there was typically dancing and live music. I remember a few post Thanksgiving Friday night “hops” over the years that were real “barn burners”. Almost every year, for as long as I can remember, there’s been a big Thanksgiving family reunion party at Granny’s. It was something we could all count on, except for a couple of exceedingly rare years when it didn’t happen. 2020 is one of those years.
I haven’t been home for Thanksgiving since 2014. I went there to sing at my dad’s memorial service, which was held over Thanksgiving so more people could come to his memorial. He actually died in July 2014. Since then, a lot more people have passed away, but living in Germany has kept me away from home for their funerals. Some deaths have hurt more than others.
I’m not a very religious person, but I do like to think that Heaven is a real place. I imagine my cousin Karen, who died on Saturday, arriving in Heaven, being greeted by long lost loved ones like her parents and our grandmother. I think of my Aunt Jeanne and Uncle Bob waiting by the Pearly Gates, ready to embrace her and lead her to see Granny, who passed away in 2007.
I like to think of the arrival of a new soul in Heaven as a big party, like the ones we had years ago at Granny’s house, when everyone was still young enough and healthy, and wanted to stay up visiting. My mom would have a couple of drinks and get on the organ and play with my Uncle Brownlee’s band. Or my Uncle Steve would play trombone. There was a lot of dancing and singing and drinking too much… Maybe that’s what homecoming was like for Karen and my other relatives. Maybe they’re all sitting around a big table, as if they’re waiting for more people to join the party up in Heaven.
I picture my Aunt Nance serving turtle cheesecake that has no calories. I picture my Uncle Kenneth sitting at the table telling stories with my Uncle Carl and his wife, Aunt Betty. I think of my Aunt Susan, who died in 1962, healthy and making up for lost time with her brothers and sisters who have finally passed the bar. I think of my Uncle Brownlee playing organ while my dad nods along approvingly. I think of Granny and Pappy looking on adoringly. No one is drunk or angry or being obnoxious. Everyone is having a great time, just like we did at so many Thanksgiving parties over the years… and they’re all waiting for the rest of us to arrive.
Then I start thinking about all of the people I’ve found as I’ve searched our genealogy. I wonder if they’re at the party, too. Will I somehow know my ancestors in Heaven? What about people I’m related to by marriage? What about Bill’s dad, who died just nine days ago? Somehow, I think if Heaven exists, he’ll be there. Because anything is possible in Heaven, right? And there will be no worries about not enough bathrooms, cleaning up the mess the next day, lack of parking spots, or paying for anything. There will be room at the table for everyone; everyone will be heard and appreciated; and there will be no talk about politics or controversy. And no one will be sneakily taking any unflattering photos, either. 😉
My Uncle Brownlee was probably my favorite relative. We had a lot in common. His birthday was the day after mine and we shared a love for music and off color humor. He died in 2019. I couldn’t be at his funeral due to the logistics. Now that we have COVID-19, it’s even harder to go home. And even if we were in the United States, people would probably shame us if we tried to have a gathering this year. In fact, attending Thanksgiving with a bunch of relatives on Earth might hasten our own arrivals at the Heavenly Thanksgiving Party.
I don’t think about God as much as a lot of my relatives do. Some of my people are super Christian types. They don’t curse and they go to church a lot. They figure cursing offends God. Personally, I think if God is as perfect as people claim, S/he (does God have genitals?) is probably above being offended. Being offended is a human thing. I don’t think God is human. Humans aren’t perfect. I’d like to think that God is nothing but wisdom, kindness, and love, but that’s probably too simplistic of a description. The fact is, I can’t imagine God, although I’m not quite at a point at which I don’t believe in God. But even if there is no such thing as God or Heaven, I do think that concept has inspired a lot of people to do incredible things. And that’s mostly a good thing. On the other hand, the concept of God has also inspired some pretty horrible things, too… albeit for very flawed human reasons.
Anyway, as Thanksgiving approaches, I am picturing my long lost relatives, all of whom loved being together on Thanksgiving (I presume, anyway), and enjoying the holiday up in Heaven, eating, drinking, laughing, singing, dancing, and visiting, with no worries about anything. They could have that Heavenly Thanksgiving Party forever, if they wanted to. Because Heaven is a perfect place, where there’s no suffering. Or, if they hated parties on Earth, maybe they’re somewhere they loved to be. Sitting by a quiet, rushing brook in the most beautiful place, with nothing but the company of beloved pets… actually, that sounds more like Heaven to me. Ditto if I’m surrounded by books and music and maybe enjoying the company of my favorite person, Bill.
Maybe this perfection doesn’t exist. Maybe death just means cessation of life. In that case, it means there’s no more pain or problems. That’s not a bad thing for the person who’s gone. It’s bad for the people who miss that person, left here on Earth, stuck in a cumbersome body that eventually fails for everyone. But eventually, everybody gets an invitation to the Heavenly Thanksgiving Party. Or so I’d like to believe. And I find it comforting to think of my relatives and friends enjoying their time at the Heavenly Party, waiting for the rest of us to join them in the fun.
As for our 2020 Thanksgiving celebration, it promises to be as quiet and peaceful as the last five have been. We’re just not going to cook. This year, we’re ordering a Thanksgiving takeout meal from a restaurant. It makes sense– less cleaning up and leftovers, and we do our part to keep the restaurants going until we can get a vaccine against the dreaded COVID-19 virus. I expect our 2020 Thanksgiving will be much like our anniversary was yesterday… kind of boring in some ways, but extraordinary in others. Bill’s daughter wished us a happy anniversary yesterday and even sent us a gift. Up until a few years ago, I never thought she would speak to Bill again, let alone acknowledge our anniversary. So even though our 2020 celebration had no naked dips at Irish Roman baths or palatial accommodations, it was remarkable just the same. We had originally planned to see Keb’ Mo’ in concert in Mainz. Naturally, that concert has now been rescheduled twice, thanks to COVID-19. I expect we’ll still be here when it finally does occur… at this point, in September 2021.
The featured photo is my dad and his mother… looks like maybe it was taken at my sister’s wedding, which was also a pretty epic celebration at Granny’s house. My dad died just seven years after he lost his mother, so they probably had a pretty awesome reunion in 2014.